In today's food environment, education just isn't enough to curb the overconsumption of sugary drinks.
Yesterday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a ban on sales of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces in restaurants, delis, sports arenas, and movie theaters.
The New York Times also weighed in with an editorial arguing that the mayor has now gone too far and should be sticking to educational strategies.
Alas. If only educational strategies worked. But they do not.
We know this from what it took to discourage people from smoking cigarettes. We also know this from research on eating behavior. This shows that it doesn’t take much to get people to eat too much.
Just barrage us with advertising, put food within arm’s reach, make food available 24/7, make it cheap, and serve it in enormous portions.
Faced with this kind of food environment, education doesn’t stand a chance.
That’s the point the Mayor’s proposal is trying to address, however clumsily. After all, a 16-ounce soda is two servings.
Sugary drinks—especially large ones—make sense as a target for a portion size intervention.
- They have calories but no nutrients (“liquid candy”).
- The larger the serving size, the more calories they contain.
- They are widely consumed, often to the extent of hundreds and sometimes thousands of calories a day.
- Research links them to obesity (people who habitually consume sugary drinks tend to have worse diets and weigh more than those who don’t).
- People tend to drink the amount that is in the container.